Plain Talk: An unsexy technology that could lead to some sexy outcomes for government


MINOT, N.D. — I make a living writing and talking about politics, and I divide the topics I cover up into two categories.

First, there’s the sexy stuff. The hot-button stuff. Topics that immediately stir up interest from the audience. It’s the stuff we spend most of our time talking about. How big should the government be, and how much should it cost us? Stuff like that.

Then there’s the unsexy stuff. Like blockchain.

What is blockchain? North Dakota Chief Information Officer Shawn Riley knows. He’s an advocate for it. He tried to explain it to this humble political wonk on this episode of Plain Talk, and what he said makes a lot of sense.

Blockchain is a way of recording transactions in a way that’s simultaneously secure and transparent. He believes it could be used in everything from recording title histories for property to tracking mineral rights and, yes, even voting.

Nerd stuff, I know, but the impact could be very sexy in terms of that thing we all care about, which is how much government is costing us.

Riley estimates that North Dakota has something like $1.2 billion in what he calls “tech debt,” which is to say investments in dated technology that needs to be upgraded. There’s no holding back the rapid advance of technology, but Riley argues that if we implement blockchain for the information our government is built around – all the little transactions and data the state records and keeps – upgrading that technology could be a lot cheaper in the future.

If we could make our interactions with the government more efficient, and more secure, while simultaneously holding down the cost of the government gathering and keeping all that data, isn’t that a win for everyone?